HOLIDAY SURVIVAL GUIDE
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
HOW TO ENJOY THE BEST MEALS, NOT OFFEND YOUR AUNT, BUT ALSO HAVE NO REGRETS AFTER THE HOLIDAYS
With the first snow falling it’s officially the most wonderful time of the year here in Budapest. This means we’re all slowly getting into the holiday spirit and eating all the comfort food makes up a pretty big part of this. Although I generally believe that the holidays are simply not the best time to start dieting, I also see, that many people just lose all control over their otherwise quite normal eating habits and turn into a kid in a candy store day and night. This is usually followed by massive guilt, self-shaming and ridiculous dieting as of the new year.
This post is not to suggest you should be dieting during the holidays, rather it is a summary of my go-to tips on how to enjoy the holidays and eat delicious meals without feeling guilty about your meals during the most delicious time of the year!
First of all, the most important thing I do is planning. This is also why this list was born. It might sound too restrictive already, but this is what really allows me flexibility, makes me calm and allows me to not worry when the time comes! Nothing freaks me out like uncertainty and because I care about my nutrition and value all the work I put into it throughout the year I like to make sure everything is under control, even if I decide to let loose for a few days.
So, planning is really the first thing on my list, but it is so general and fundamental, that it will be tip #0 on the list today.
So, what should you plan?
First, you need to decide what you are doing. You cannot complain you got off track if you go all out on all the Christmas candy at the same time. Everything is fair game, but be honest with yourself and have realistic expectations. Do you want to keep tracking your food? It will be hard, your entire family will get hung up on it and you are not likely to be able to do it very accurately. You can still do your best though, just set yourself up with realistic expectations.
Are you planning to indulge for one meal a day instead? Or for all the meals for 3 days? For an entire week? That’s all fine. Just decide what you are going to do and be absolutely ok with everything that comes with it.
My goal is to keep up the progress I have made until now, without working too much against myself, and this is what my tips are based on too, approaching the holiday meals with mindfulness and a balanced approach.
So here are my tips or better, my action plan to survive the holidays;
# 1 Take a diet break
There will be considerably more food around you than normal. And it will be there all the freaking time. That is one of the main reasons why I would not recommend you starting a diet or trying to be very strict during this time. You can still pursue a healthy lifestyle and make better choices during the holidays without dieting. It’s all about defining and finding your own balance, that allows you to have fun but also stay true to your goals.
Taking a diet break does not mean you should throw all the care out the window. But it seems like the perfect time to come out of a massive caloric deficit, or you reintroduce a few items you have been restricting for a while. Trying to resist every bite will likely create some frustration and tension between you and the family leaving you with a sour taste as well. Also, being overly restrictive will likely to lead to eventually over-eating and then feeling disappointment and trying to restrict again. This would make anyone fall into the yoyo dieting trap, but what is even worse is that one prone to disordered eating will easily get sucked into a very dangerous cycle. Taking a diet break also does not mean constantly eating in a surplus though! That is called bulking or gaining and that is what you most likely want to avoid if you are reading this.
For both your mental sanity and your shape, it is a good time to take a diet break, get your calories back up to maintenance or just allow yourself some of the things you have been restricting. You don’t have to eat them for every meal over 4-weeks, but you can enjoy them in moderation. The all or nothing mentality is probably not the one that will help you get through these days feeling and looking the way you want to.
Giving yourself a little break from your diet and training plan will help you get back to them even more motivated! If mindful eating and some exercising feel great, go ahead and absolutely do it, but also feel safe to take 3 days, or even a week to just really relax, enjoy your time with your loved ones and recharge your body and mind.
Code word: Memories over macros!
# 2 Water, water, water
It is easy to notice you are thirsty when it is burning hot outside and you are sweating your clothes off. Winter is a little different, you are hardly ever too warm and feel parched, because of it but be assured you can easily mistake thirst for hunger!
Avoid accidentally fighting thirst with snacks, by staying constantly hydrated. Next time you are about to reach for a snack in the office or at home, because you feel a “little hunger” try having a big glass of water or a nice cup of tea first. Still hungry? Eat. Otherwise, it was only thirst. Master staying hydrated now, so it won’t be a big deal over Christmas. There are super stylish and functional water bottles being sold everywhere that can help you step up your water game.
# 3 Do not show up too hungry
I try to avoid going food shopping hungry, because I end up buying a lot more than I need and I also tend to buy a bunch of things I normally would not buy. These are usually snacks that I also end up demolishing on the way home or already on the way out the store, because all my brain focuses on is hunger and I have no capacity for making better decisions. The same thing would happen if I decided to show up to a dinner already starving and now having to wait a little longer. I would eat everything and more and probably only realize that way too late, when I already feel the food coma kicking in. Being very hungry is not a state when you want to test your dedication and discipline. If you know you have a long way to go until lunch or dinner starts, try to eat some veggies before. Planning a little ahead is a lot simpler than trying to avoid over-indulging when your brain thinks you are starving.
Also, remember to chew. Eat slowly. This might sound silly, but if you just keep stuffing yourself, forgetting to really taste and appreciate every bite you can easily overeat by the time you finally feel some sort of satisfaction. Eat your meals slowly, this is not a who-can-eat-more competition. From personal experience, there is always more food if you are still hungry.
# 4 Make it special
Honestly, there is pretty much no end to the list of treats that will surround you over Christmas. I am not even talking after-dinner dessert, but the afternoon coffee/ tea, that is really afternoon cake and all the cookies and biscuits that just sub in for a proper breakfast every day for a week after Christmas, not to mention the in-between meals gingerbread and praline or other mini chocolate treat snacks. To avoid indulging in literally everything and more, choose your best treat and make it feel special. Pick what you enjoy most, what you are looking forward to the most and give the rest of the things a break. Also, visit the people, not the food.
# 5 Have one safe meal a day
If you are hopping from family to family having a different meal at each you can easily feel completely out of control of your meals. The one meal you have at home should be your safe one, and by safe I mean, something you feel comfortable with and confident about, especially if you are slightly worried about how the day is going to go. This is for most of us breakfast. If you are still feeling full after last night, feel free to skip this meal entirely, just make sure you do not starve by the time you get to your next family meal (see number 2). At the same time, do what feels right. We tend to think we must eat something else to make a meal ''right''. Now you are just forcing yourself to eat more, to justify eating something you do not consider to be a ''proper meal''. You don't need to eat a proper breakfast to be able to eat dessert for breakfast additionally. Eat dessert for breakfast, feel good about it and move on.
# 6 The things you might want to limit
The calories that can add up most easily without you feeling that you have been eating too much are going to come from sauces, gravy, creamy desserts and drinks, especially alcohol. Just keep this in mind. If you just want to enjoy a few days of all things delicious, go ahead and do it! If you don't mind saving some calories and you are anyway not big on drinks, sticking to calorie free drinks is an easy way to do so.
If you love your drinks and care less about sweets, you can skip dessert. It's a bit like budgeting...if you at all want to take care of your ''finances'' during these days, which is totally allowed. I have the feeling that body composition goals are now being shamed just as hard as not caring about our health and bodies...All goals are fair goals and YOU can and should do whatever you want and feel good about it.
Do you feel pushed, forced to eat? You definitely do not own anyone an explanation, but I had my fair share of situation when I felt trapped and then uncomfortable having to eat things that were not chosen by me. If this sounds familiar, plan what you are going to say next. Stay polite but be assertive.
First, the complement:
“This must be the [fill in the blank] that everyone always raves about, but…”
“It looks absolutely delicious, but…”
Then, the reason:
“…I just don’t have room for any right now.”
“…I don’t eat [fill in an ingredient].”
“…This doesn’t fit in to my food plan for the day.” Though here, you should be prepared for more questions...
Or say thank you and change the subject: “Thank you for offering…”
“…how’s the new job?”
# 7 Stay active
No, you do not have to hit the gym 5 times a week, but try to go for a walk, go on a bike ride or go ice-skating! These can all be part of valuable family time! My personal favorite ways to stay active during this time are going on big walks, mid-cooking dance parties and playing literally any Wii game that will make jump around the living room. This is NOT to earn food. You do NOT need to earn food. This is to keep your body moving, stay healthy and happy and moving your body in ways you enjoy it is going to help with that.
# 8 The aftermath
Letting a little lose will likely move the scale up a bit, but I also bet you it is mainly water weight. You would either have to eat in a massive (massive!!!) surplus for longer than a week to actually gain weight that will stay. Forget about the scale (not only now, but in general...) and instead put the focus on family and friends, laughter and memories over macros. Remember; Food is not only calories and it does not need to be earned.
People tend to worry about Christmas, but nothing major can happen in 4 days. Major shifts happen if you treat the weeks between Thanksgiving and mid-January as the ''Holidays''. Unless you turn 1 week of the actual holiday into a month of treats now you and your goals will be fine shortly after you get back to your routine.
Finally, just enjoy this time to the fullest! It only comes only once a year and it should not be filled with stress and worries about your food choices. These are just my personal tricks that allow me to enjoy the holidays without having to worry.
Are you just about to get started with living healthier? Do not put too much pressure on yourself during the holidays. Make the best choices you can, while enjoying the holidays and really step up your fitness game again once your schedule is back to normal. We are kicking off the New Year with an Online Nutrition Challenge to help people get back on track after the holidays.
With this challenge, we want to save everyone from buying into a silly diet plan with zero professional support or accountability partner on their side to guide them through it.
We will focus on building healthy habits and ensure they stick.
The program is entirely online, you can join from anywhere! Stay tune for more details to come.